Wedding Bells & Bills: How to Financially Plan for Your Big Day
Nov 16, 2023
Marriage, Financial planning
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First of all, congrats. You found a person to spend your life with and want to celebrate that with the people you love the most.
Maybe you’ve been ready for this moment for years but have no idea how your bank account will keep up with your Pinterest board or your partner's. Or maybe your plans ended at the calling your parents and flashes of venue reservations and catering budgets are starting to nudge you off cloud nine.
Well, fear not — it’s never a bad time to start thinking about how to turn your budget into a day you’ll cherish forever. We've been there, from big blowouts to intimate love fests, and we've also talked to the wedding planners who do it all to get you started on a wedding day gameplay of your own. We’ll cover:
The average cost of a wedding
How to talk to your partner about the kind of wedding you both want
How to talk to family members about their contributions and expectations
Wedding day miscellanea to consider
How to nail down a realistic wedding budget – and how to save for it
What’s it cost to tie the knot?
You might have heard that some millennials are skipping weddings to buy homes instead, and as wedding prices continue to rise, that tradeoff can be real. Roughly 64% of millennials would rather postpone or shrink their wedding budget so they could buy a home sooner (Source: Open Listings, 2018).
But there are many ways to keep your wedding bells from cracking your nest egg. Let's start with some averages…
In 2022, the average cost of a wedding came in at $30,000, averaging $256 per guest (for 117 people). And on the coasts, the average goes up to $500 per guest (Source: The Knot).
Costs can vary dramatically based on location, number of guests, and a thousand other details of your wedding. If you're a DIY-er kind of bride, there are lots of places where you can trade hours and creativity for dollar savings. But here are the primary party favors in the mix:
Venue: Typically the biggest ticket item. The cost typically ranges from $10,000 - 20,000.
Food: Catering averages around $150 per person. If you have 100 guests, that’s $15,000 just to feed them, or $30,000 for 200. That's without the tips + taxes + service fees that are often layered on top. Inspiring stuff when it comes time to narrow down that guest list.
Photos: For most places nowadays, a photographer for the big day will cost $3-5k. If you're in a big city, top photographers can easily charge over $10k+ for the big day and if you have a multi-day celebration, that goes even higher. That'll incldue additional photographers, or videographers to make you movie stars for a day.
Music: Whether you’ve got the electric slide at the top of your playlist or your mom won’t stand up for anything less funky than Motown, a DJ will set your wedding’s tone and run you about $1,500. Live band? Double the budget.
Flowers: $2,400 is the national average. Chrysanthemums and carnations are reliable, inexpensive options, but some flowers budgets can bloom wildly higher. Did you know ONE bouquet of cascading orchids can run $2,000?
Dress: The average wedding dress costs $1,900. If you want a veil and headpiece, that's additional.
Groom's attire: $500. At least one of you is a cheaper date.
Cake: $500. About $50 of that goes on your face. Small cakes and a dessert table are increasingly popular nowadays (just don't mention it's for a wedding!).
Hair and makeup: $500-1,000, though this could easily double in big cities; then for bridesmaids / moms, it's usuallly $300-500 more per person. Hair and makeup is more than the sum of parts, and may not be the place to skimp if breathtaking wedding photos are a top priority.
Okay, breathe… That was the hard part. Like any estimate, your numbers could be significantly higher or lower depending on what you prioritize. (Oh right, don't forget cash for tipping everyone…)
Taking a step back, we've taken into account all the costs of a wedding and created this rule of thumb for wedding budgeting:
A "budget" wedding is ~ $190 per guest.
A "moderate" wedding is ~ $350 per guest.
A "generous" wedding is ~$560 per guest.
A "luxury" wedding is ~ $1100 per guest.
What to discuss with your partner
The big question’s out of the way. Now for all the little ones… But first, it is helpful to look at the big picture to piece together your vision. Here are some questions to get you started:
When you close your eyes and picture your wedding, what comes to mind? What does it look and feel like? Describe it to each other. Do you see a beach, a rustic barn, a country club, your parents' backyard, another country? Write it down. No detail to large or small at this point. It’ll all be helpful to revisit when your eyes are burning staring at tablecloth swatches in a few months.
What’s most important about your wedding? Is it about having everyone you know there going all out or a few people you love really getting to connect? Is it a week-long saga or an awesome afternoon?
Who’s coming? Closest family and friends? Co-workers? Extended cousins you haven’t seen in 10 years? This is where starting with a number can help.
Are there any religious or cultural components you’ll want to honor? Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra paid homage to both their cultures by tying the knot in Western and Hindu ceremonies. Plus multiple receptions. If you’re not a Jonas or Chopra, there may be some compromises in order. So be clear with yourself and your partner about those early on so you can move forward with planning on the same page. We'll have more on this in a pt.2!
What to discuss with parents
Conversations with your parents and future in-laws will likely be ongoing through the wedding planning process (and hopefully after the wedding too). But these three questions are important to get clear on as early as possible:
Will any parents be contributing financially, and if so, how much?
How many people will each set of parents want to invite?
Are there any customs or rituals they want to incorporate?
The answers to these questions can have a huge impact on what your wedding looks like, or at least how it’s being financed, so be proactive and considerate by asking them as soon as planning begins.
There’s so much more to your wedding than the dollar amount it will cost. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the traditions that matter to you and your partner, your personal style, the most important people in your life, and of course, your relationship. These questions can help place all of that for your big day:
What’s the rush in getting married?
In 2022, the average length of an engagement was 15 months. 13% of couples were engaged for two years or longer.* While many of these longer engagements were likely due to the pandemic, some couples opt for a longer engagement to give themselves more time to save to be able to afford their dream wedding.
Toss the tux to save money on a wedding
Remember, this wedding is about the two of you. Maybe you want to serve your grandma’s chocolate chip cookies instead of a seven-tiered cake. Or maybe you’d rather have a barbecue buffet than a plated meal.
Maybe you’ll opt for an eco-friendly (and budget-friendly) wedding favor, like a potted plant or a donation to a cause that matters to you. Casual doesn’t have to be any less thoughtful than formal.
Find your happy medium for your wedding
Compromise is central to any strong relationship. What trade-offs are you willing to make for your wedding? Could you skip a wedding planner and go with more of a DIY approach? Could you trade a live band for an award-winning photographer?
Are you OK with spending more on food and less on flowers? Is having the wedding in the perfect antique barn more important than keeping the wedding close to home? Making sacrifices will make whatever you do include shine even brighter.
What’s next after a wedding?
Weddings are not an end, they’re a beginning. If you're hoping to buy a home or start a family in the near term, it might make sense to lower your wedding budget so your other financial goals don’t fly away with the doves.
How to start saving for your wedding
With Plenty, this is the easy part. We’ve done the due diligence for you pooling research data from the pros at The Knot, WeddingWire, and Zola, who surveyed over 12,000 couples.
When you set up your Wedding goal, we’ll walk you through the financial considerations that will get you there and make recommendations for your unique situation:
Tell us the kind of wedding you’re looking for, the guest count, and your target date
We’ll build you a total Wedding target to save for on a flexible (and customizable) weekly savings plan that works for you
Regular contributions add up faster than you think, especially if you’re doing it with a partner. And Plenty’s products are designed to help you reach your goal faster – so all you’ll be thinking of when you walk down the aisle is each other.
And don't miss: our top tips in the art of requesting cash gifts for your registry.
-The Plenty team
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